FROM WIRE AND STAFF REPORTS
TALLAHASSEE – On one side, there’s the Florida Cabinet, the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Republican-dominated Florida House of Representatives.
On the other side, there’s the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, Color of Change, the Dream Defenders, Service Employees International Union, and more than 100 other legal experts.
The issue: Whether Gov. Rick Scott can legally remove Central Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala Florida’s first Black elected state attorney from nearly two-dozen death penalty cases.
Ayala, the state attorney in Orange and Osceola counties, sued Scott because the governor stripped her office of 23 death penalty cases after she announced she would not seek capital punishment in any cases – including the high-profile case of accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd.
She is challenging Scott’s legal authority to remove her from the cases, arguing that prosecutors have broad discretion over charging decisions.
But Scott’s supporters say Ayala’s refusal to seek capital punishment exceeds her authority. Scott reassigned the cases to Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King, an outspoken supporter of the death penalty.
State and national groups contend that Scott’s treatment of Ayala is a reflection of Florida’s ugly history of discrimination against Blacks in elections as well as in the criminal justice system.
“This has become an all-out attack from the Florida GOP on Black voters, Black communities and Black leadership,” Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson, whose group backed Ayala’s campaign last year, told reporters during a conference call Thursday prior to the filing of a friend-of-the-court brief.
‘The way it is’
Bernie McCabe, the state attorney in Pasco and Pinellas counties, said prosecutors are obligated to uphold Florida law, even if they are not forced to by the Constitution.
“I think if you’re going to be the state attorney and you’re sworn to uphold the laws of the state of Florida, you’ve got to do all of them,” McCabe said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “If you accept this job, you have to accept that the governor can remove you from a case if he thinks that’s in the best interest of justice. That’s just the way it is.”
Proponents of both sides are filing “friend-of-the-court” briefs with the Florida Supreme Court, which will hear Ayala’s state case.
Ayala has also filed a federal lawsuit in Orlando which also names King as a defendant and accuses Scott of diluting the rights of voters in Orange and Osceola counties, where Ayala was elected, by giving King power to prosecute cases outside of the district in which he was elected.
Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.